The revolution in Irish cooking and the uptake in organic wholesome food where the focus is on ingredients, can be credited to one family in Ireland, the Allens.
The family who own the famous Irish cooking school Ballymaloe, are the ones who helped start the revolution towards Irish food with their family run business which now spans four generations.
Heading up the New York based franchise of the company is 24-year-old Sean Hyde. He is the fourth generation of the iconic Irish family to help spread the quality Ballymaloe is known for to the American market. His grandmother, the legendary Myrtle Allen grew the company to what it is today.
Ballymaloe House is located in the rolling green hills of County Cork, in the South of Ireland.The house is built around a 15th century Norman castle that remains as part of the structure today.
The dynasty of the cooking school was started by Ivan and Myrtle Allen who lived in Shanagarry, on a neighboring farm to Ballymaloe.
Ivan had glasshouses in the 1940s that were developed with grant aid money from Éamon De Valera’s government.
They practiced revolutionary farming methods for the time and it is said that Ivan would have been one of the first people in Ireland ever to grow tomatoes, which would become a very important part of the business almost 50 years later.
A neighbor and friend of Ivan’s was selling Ballymaloe House by auction and he asked his friend to add funding to the bidding and try to boost the selling price on the day. Ivan didn’t intend to, but he ended up having the highest bid and bought Ballymaloe House in 1948.
In 1964 after having six children the youngest still a baby, Myrtle opened a restaurant in her dining room in Ballymaloe House. She didn’t know it at the time, but she was about to start a small revolution in Irish cuisine that would see the standard raised to what can be found across Ireland, in many of the cafes, and restaurants.
With a focus on the best ingredients possible and with the abundance of quality food from their farm and local fishing village of Ballycotton, the restaurant has won numerous awards for its food.
All of the Allen children worked in the house and restaurant from a young age and grew up with an excellent knowledge and appreciation for food. This was to be the foundation of a food family that now spans four generations.
Darina Allen, Myrtle’s daughter-in-law started the first farmers market in Ireland and has helped develop Irish farmers markets into the national industry it is today.
The traditions at the cooking school have continued with Darina’s daughter-in-law Rachel Allen taking on many of the duties she learned from Darina. Rachel was brought up in Dublin, at the age of 18 she left to study at the world famous Ballymaloe Cookery School.
After graduating she worked in the kitchens at Ballymaloe House, then returned to work at the cookery school where she found her passion in teaching and where she continues to teach each week.
She married Darina’s son and now lives by the sea in Shanagarry not far from Ballymaloe Cookery School with her husband Isaac and their three children, Joshua, Lucca and Scarlett.
The success of the business is credited to the hard work of each family member and growing up in a world of food.
Myrtle’s daughter Yasmin Hyde started producing the Ballymaloe products in 1989 with Ballymaloe relish becoming the break out product that is in every kitchen in Ireland
The Ballymaloe original tomato relish is one of Myrtle Allen’s original recipes from the 1940’s. It was created as a way of preserving the tomatoes Ivan was growing, at the end of each summer. The product and recipe have never changed and remains the flagship product of Ballymaloe Food Co. today.
Ballymaloe has been selling in the US market over the past 15 years in a small and organic way. Over the past two years a fourth generation of the family Sean Hyde has been heading up the family business as it transitions its way across the Atlantic to American stores.
Heading up the transition is Sean Hyde, Myrtle’s grandson. Sean grew up watching his mother Yasmin grow her business and recalls fondly his memories of growing up in the dynasty of an Irish food revolution. The young business man says Ballymaloe products was created when he was only six months old
“There are pictures of me asleep on a fresh batch of relish in the kitchen.”
"There were times our school uniforms may not have been ready, but it was all part of growing up in a great business.”
He credits his parents work ethic with the success of the business. His grandmother is very supportive of his move to New York and bringing the family business to the next level of evolution.
“Ballymaloe helped revolutionize Irish food, and our aim here in America is to try change perceptions the American market has on Irish food.” He added “It has changed a lot in the past ten years but we still have a long way to go in changing the attitude”.
The main aim is to get Ballymaloe products onto the mainstream aisles in stores, and to move away from the international aisle. One of the challenges the company has overcome in the transition period was labeling issues.
The trademark Ballymaloe relish was not been recognized in American stores in the way it is in Ireland.This has led to a rebranding in the American market of Ballymaloe as a ‘gourmet ketchup’ .
The family business hope that the rebranding of the trademark product will help to get the Ballymaloe products a more recognized entity in American stores.
Sean says that Irish food should be known for what it is, sustainable and in abundance. It’s a statement Ballymaloe products want to reiterate in America.
“It’s a fact that every Irish person should be trying to get into the mindset of America. With Ballymaloe products being over here, we are trying to lead that perception of Irish food, with our good quality products.
“Relish is known in Ireland as being Ballymaloe, and we hope that the Ballymaloe trademark will really take off in New York this coming year.”
The young Cork man has fond memories of spending his summers at Ballymaloe house recalling starting a summer job in the bar at the age of fourteen and roaming the countryside with his cousins who lived down the road.
Ballymaloe has always been a strong support to the local community and Sean says “If someone came looking for a job at Ballymaloe, there was always a job found. My grandfather never believed in turning people away.”
This community and family spirit has been instilled in Sean too, who is looking forward to a busy 2014, by revolutionizing the way the American public look at Irish food.
Ballymaloe remains in the heart set of the community in Co Cork and is a much loved Irish tradition of cooking which will hopefully begin to creep in the homes and mindsets of North America as the fourth generation of an Irish dynasty begins the next journey for Ballymaloe.
Check out the Ballymaloe products here.